Watch Your Language

By Cornelius Hummel

Recently, my colleague Matthias Höckh wrote about the dangers of guidance overkill. When implementing a brand in an organization, too much information can be paralyzing and thwart the actual goal: to provide infectious energy and create momentum. That’s why when we define a brand, we try to keep it as simple and as brief as possible. At MetaDesign, we feel strongly about our proprietary brand model, which is based on few but very strong and clear elements.

However, in our role as consultants, we can’t always start from scratch. Initial audits with new clients often reveal a status quo that has grown organically over the years under the influence of various internal leadership groups and different external partners. Of course, external partners have their own agendas. Rather than tackling the actual need of the client, their top priority might be to sell their strategy product (or even just parts of it), which always comes with a specific way of speaking about the things you do. Rinse and repeat a few times, and the result is a patchwork terminology.

Why is this a challenge? With regard to marketing in general and branding in particular, there are many different schools of thought and thus a lot of competing terminologies. When you mix them, clarity is lost and things get confusing.

For example, you might be looking at terminology that includes a brand character, a brand personality, and brand attributes — all with similar but not the same content. Or there is a purpose, a mission, a vision, a positioning statement, and a value proposition — just at the core. You can try and come up with very nuanced definitions. But at the end of the day you’ll have to ask yourself if going down that road really solves the future challenges of the client.

So, how to consolidate the terminology? I recommend the following guiding principles:

  • Respect the status quo. Even if there are obvious flaws, the current terminology might be anchored internally, possibly in the heads of thousands of employees. Changes can be necessary but should not be taken lightly.
  • Try to simplify. Brands don’t need certain terms for the sake of having them. They should be understandable for every stakeholder, so less can be more and simplicity beats complexity.
  • Look for consistency. With any amendments, take the big picture into account and always keep in mind how the elements of the terminology work together.
  • Make it work for the client. Never forget who you’re doing it for. So don’t only respect the status quo but anticipate what the future holds and make the terminology compatible with it.

Going forward, the brand strategy, including its terminology, will be the foundation for all of the brand’s actions. For this to work, it is important to have precise terms, clear definitions, and a common understanding of the role of each element.

Cornelius Hummel is a senior brand strategist at MetaDesign Berlin. 

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